Should Volunteering be the Newest Health Craze? Studies think so.

by Sonya Friesen

The 21st century health craze has reached new heights in the last ten years. People are attempting to eat better, work out harder and new fad diet books are flying off the shelves. People seem to be willing to do just about anything to be healthier, but perhaps being healthy doesn’t need to include cutting out your favourite chocolate bar.  What if I told you that volunteering could be the newest health craze? What if I told you that, by giving just a few hours of your time every week, you are increasing your chances of living longer, lowering your blood pressure and opening yourself up to a happier, more fulfilled life. That may be the case. Studies are suggesting that, not only does volunteering help you network, exercise your brain and allow you to be more productive, but it may have the added benefit of being good for your health also!

How exactly can volunteering help you to live longer, be happier, and lower your blood pressure? I’m not a scientist, so I did some digging into this theory and found a surprising amount of supporting information. An American study by United Health Group showed that 76 per cent of people felt that volunteering made them healthier while 78 per cent equated their lowered stress levels to volunteering.  One quarter of those surveyed also said that volunteering helped them to manage a chronic illness by keeping them active, and allowing them to focus on something aside from their health (United Health Group, 2013). Volunteering and its direct correlation with social interaction also suggest that those who volunteer are less likely to be depressed.

I am not suggesting that you ditch your daily workout routine for a daily volunteering commitment, or choose to feast on fast-food everyday with the intention of countering the unhealthiness with some ‘extra volunteering this weekend’. I am suggesting that you consider the benefits about incorporating a small volunteering commitment into your weekly routine. By giving yourself the opportunity to get involved, you are opening yourself up to increased social interaction, increased activity, all the while knowing that you are making a difference in the community!

If you need more persuading, a study by Carnegie Mellon University suggests that people who were 50 years of age and older and volunteered regularly seemed to be less likely to develop high blood pressure then those who didn’t volunteer. While this result could be due to the fact that volunteering may give people who aren’t normally active, a chance to move around, there does seem to be some correlation between the two. (Watson, 2013)

Even celebrity physician, Dr. Oz makes note of the health benefits of volunteering on his website. His website refers to study results that suggest people who do two or more hours of volunteering a week show decreased rates of depression and heart disease (Cardillo, 2011).

Okay, so all these results “suggest” health benefits, but can they prove them? Well, no, not exactly. While the studies show indication that volunteering is related to these benefits, there are too many additional factors that could also be associated – studies can’t narrow it down to volunteering as the sole cause. Associated factors like physical activity or increased social interaction are also said to lead to the same benefits, but their interaction with volunteering is unknown.

However there are some benefits that most studies seem to be able to agree on, and lucky for us, these benefits may trump all the others. Most studies seem to be able to agree that while the health benefits can’t be proven, volunteering does seem to improve quality of life and there is enough evidence to suggest that volunteers are generally happier people.  Why? Volunteering makes us feel more fulfilled which, in turn, makes us happier as we go through our every day activities.

No need to keep up with all the newest juice cleanses and diet books. It’s time to jump on a health-craze bandwagon that, for once, you will actually enjoy! Get volunteering and get to know a happier you.  Volunteer Ottawa has amazing opportunities coming up every day that range from one-day commitments to six-month opportunities. Find one that fits your lifestyle – click on the following link to get started.  http://volunteerottawa.ca/index.php/volunteer/get-started-volunteer-links/find-an-opportunity

Looking to learn more about the health benefits associated with volunteering? Check out the links below.

1. Watson, Stephanie. (June 2013). “Volunteering may be good for your body and mind”. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428

 2. United Health Group. (2013) “Doing Good is Good for You”. http://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/~/media/UHG/PDF/2013/UNH-Health-Volunteering-Study.ashx

 3. Cardillo, Donna (March, 2011). “Volunteering is Good for Your Health…And Your Career”. Dr. Oz Show: Harpo Inc.  http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/donna-cardillo-rn-ma/volunteering-good-your-health-and-your-career

 

 

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